Sens. Grassley and Johnson Say Defense Agency and Georgia Tech May have Targeted RNC, DNC Networks

U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) said an email was uncovered recently that exposed a U.S. Defense agency project aimed at targeting Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee networks.

At the core of the concerning discovery are some serious questions, including whether the Pentagon’s research arm was involved in driving false claims that Russians working for then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hacked into the DNC email server in 2016.

Grassley, a ranking member of the Committee on the Budget, and Johnson, a ranking member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, are asking some questions of Stephanie Tompkins, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), regarding the troubling disclosure.

The senators said they uncovered a September 25, 2020, email between a Georgia Institute of Technology researcher and DARPA employees suggesting a plan to target the DNC and RNC networks. A DARPA employee referred to the project as “sensitive stuff . . . worth doing.” Further, the email appears to suggest that this examination was to be conducted without the prior knowledge of the RNC or DNC, the lawmakers said.

“This email exchange raises questions about the work of the [Enhanced Attribution] program and government employees responsible for it,” Grassley and Johnson wrote in their letter to Tomkins.

In the email between Georgia Tech’s Manos Antonakakis, who worked on DARPA’s Enhanced Attribution program, and DARPA employees, with the subject “RNC and DNC Related networks,” Antonakakis appears to request DARPA sign off on the research examine networks related to the RNC and DNC, according to the letter.

The Enhanced Attribution program tracks “malicious cyber adversary actions,” seeking to identify the individuals behind it, according to the agency. DARPA is developing techniques and tools to track sophisticated malicious cyber campaigns, “each involving several operators, and the means to share such information with any of a number of interested parties.”

Antonakakis’ email appears to suggest that the examination was to be conducted without the prior knowledge of the RNC or DNC, the senators wrote.

In the email, Antonakakis wrote:

Folks, last night as I was thinking what we can study, I also realized that we do not know much about the RNC and DNC networks out there. Wrote a job that run [sic] over night and I know [sic] have 292 *hand verified* at this point networks that are linked with RNC, DNC, and all local/state committee networks around the US. An adversary would find those networks interesting for a number of reasons. So, I think we should run a reverse Pythia and see what we can see.

If you approve this, [DARPA employee], I would like from you to think how we will break any bad news to these people? If you cannot think of a clear and clean way to inform them (is this DHS’s role or FBI’s or USCC’s?), perhaps we should let them remain infected.

On the same day, according to the email exchange, the DARPA employee responded to Antonakakis:

“Sensitive stuff but yes, I know who to talk to if we find anything. Worth doing.”

“OK, then. I will work with these networks and see what I can come up with,” Antonakakis replied.

The senators’ letter to the DARPA official follows their April 28, 2022, letter to DARPA about its reported collaboration with Georgia Tech related to the 2016 DNC server hack attribution. DARPA has failed to fully respond to this inquiry, according to Johnson and Grassley.

Officials from the government agency did not return The Star News Network’s request for comment. Neither did officials with the media relations department at Georgia Tech.

As the Daily Mail noted in first reporting the story, “DARPA has denied any role in attributing the 2016 DNC hack to Russia after an email showed special counsel John Durham’s team asked Antonakis whether DARPA had had a role in the attribution of the hack.”

Durham’s report again confirmed there was no evidence of Trump’s collusion with Russia as falsely claimed in the DNC-funded Russia dossier used by federal officials to investigate, hector and harass Trump during his presidency. The special counsel did refer two matters to the Department of Defense Inspector General and the Defense Intelligence Agency, including the matter involving the “execution of a contract between DARPA and the Georgia Institute of Technology … and a “separate matter involv[ing] the irregular conduct in 2016 of two former employees of the Department of Defense.”

Antonakis has denied any wrongdoing. He has not been accused of any crimes, according to the Daily Mail.

He did write to colleagues about being interviewed in the special counsel’s investigation into the origins of the Russian collusion hoax.

“During one of my interviews with the Special Counsel prosecutor, I was asked point blank by Mr. DeFilippis, ‘Do you believe that DARPA should be instructing you to investigate the origins of a hacker (Guccifer 2.0) that hacked a political entity (DNC)?’ Let that sync [sic] for a moment, folks,” Antonakis wrote in an email last summer. The email was first published by The Federalist. “Someone hacked a political party (DNC, in this case), in the middle of an election year (2016), and the lead investigator of DOJ’s special council [sic] would question whether U.S. researchers working for DARPA should conduct investigations in this matter is ‘acceptable’!”

The RNC press and political offices could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Grassley and Johnson want Tompkins to answer several questions, including whether Antonakakis conducted any work related to RNC and DNC networks. If so, did DARPA inform the RNC and DNC of this work? If not, why not?

They also want to know:

  • Was this work conducted as part of the EA program? If not, what program was this work conducted under?
  • Did DARPA employees discuss this work with other agencies?
  • On September 25, 2020, a DARPA employee wrote, “I know who to talk to if we find anything.” Did this DARPA employee talk to any individual outside DARPA related to the RNC and DNC work? If so, who, when and what was discussed?

The senators are asking the agency to provide all records related to all work DARPA and Georgia Tech conducted related to the RNC or DNC, including but not limited to all records related to the project Antonakakis proposed in his September 25, 2020, email.

“What actions has DARPA taken related to Special Counsel Durham’s December 14, 2022, referral connected to the Georgia Institute of Technology and the separate matter relating to “irregular conduct” by former Department of Defense officials?” Grassley and Johnson ask.

They requested Tomkins provide answers by August 23.

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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “Chuck Grassley” by Chuck Grassley. Photo “Ron Johnson” by Ron Johnson.



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